It is always nice to see a discussion of Johann Georg Hamann. Craig G. Bartholomew’s address is no different. I was leafing through Bartholomew’s latest Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture, when I was pleasantly surprised to see a short treatment of the “Magus of the North.” People may be familiar with Bartholomew’s The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, a text that I have assigned this semester. Bartholomew’s latest is a thorough hermeneutic.
Bartholomew situates his treatment of Hamann in his chapter on the relationship between philosophy and hermeneutics. His task is not one of originality. Rather, Bartholomew seeks to highlight a neglected but significant voice in philosophy and hermeneutics. Thus, Bartholomew includes much information that can be found elsewhere, including John R. Betz’s After Enlightenment: The Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamann and my posts.
Bartholomew emphasis is on Hamann’s understanding of faith, his philosophy of language, and his critique of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He solidifies Hamann’s philosophy in five points.
1. Reason is not autonomous but is governed by the subconscious. Reason is inseparable from language, and like language it is not universal but relative to a particular culture.
2. The “naturalism” of modern science is unsuitable in its attempts to explain everything by mechanical laws without reference to God. Hamann disputes the distinction between natural and supernatural, which is at the heart of modern science’s attempt to free itself from theology and metaphysics.
3. The Enlightenment’s faith in human autonomy is irrational.
4. Self-consciousness is decidedly not self-illuminating. We have no privileged access to ourselves.
5. Reason is not the sovereign royal road to truth. (Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics, 295-296)
I am in full agreement with Bartholomew as he concludes, “Here Hamann is a model for what faith seeking understanding might look like in Christian, contextual scholarship in which Scripture is fully engaged” (Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics). If you are interested in a study of hermeneutics or if you want a brief take on Hamann and hermeneutics, check out Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics.